Where can the wild things roam? Combining ecological suitability and human acceptance for the Swiss wolf.

About one third of the Swiss landscape offers suitable wolf habitat. Nonetheless, there is only a small fraction thereof where the wolf is tolerated by local communities. Those regions – characterized by both favourable environmental conditions and a positive attitude towards the wolf – are identified as candidate regions for the successful short to medium-term wolf expansion, according to a study conducted by the population ecology research group at the University of Zurich

©RamiroMarquezPhotos / iStock

The wolf was eradicated in Switzerland and from large parts of continental Europe including France and Germany by the end of the 19th century. Following legal protection, the wolf population started naturally increasing and expanding, and in 1995 its presence was confirmed in Switzerland. Sightings have increased since. Despite 13’800 km2 of Switzerland are characterized by favourable conditions such as large forests with little human pressure and have thus been identified as suitable wolf habitat, wolf expansion in Switzerland has been substantially slower than in other parts of continental Europe. As the wolf is more and more subject to human-dominated landscapes, scientist at the University of Zurich developed a novel method that integrated both ecological and human components to identify regions with favourable environmental conditions and where the wolf was tolerated.

Mapping human acceptance of the wolf to identify suitable socio-ecological areas

socio-ecological suitability model
Combining human acceptance (a, c) and habitat suitability (b, d)
helps identifying socio-ecologically suitable wolf habitats in Switzerland (e).

About one third of 10,000 randomly selected residents in Switzerland participated in the survey. Combining the response from questionnaires with geographical information, Dominik Behr and his team created a nationwide map of human acceptance. Acceptance decreased with increasing altitude of residency and even more so where high numbers of sheep and goats were held. Acceptance increased with increasing distance from confirmed wolf presence and in densely populated areas. People who perceived the wolf as dangerous to humans and harmful to livestock and wildlife mainly opposed the wolf. Younger people, and people who believe that the wolf had a positive influence on the ecosystem had a more positive attitude towards the predator.

“When we overlapped our human acceptance map with a habitat suitability map for the wolf, we realized that only about 6% of Switzerland was characterized by both a positive attitude and favourable environment conditions. This was in contrast to results from the habitat suitability map, which returned one third of the Swiss landscape as being suitable for the wolf” said Dominik Behr. “As wildlife biologists, we are good at understanding the ecological factors determining the suitability of a habitat for a wildlife species. Due to ever-increasing overlap between human and wildlife, however, we are obliged to take into consideration how human acceptance modifies our ecological description of habitat suitability. This study demonstrates one effective way to do this.” stressed Arpat Ozgul, professor of population ecology at the Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich, and co-author of the study.

A novel framework to manage wolves and people
The socio-ecological map created by Dominik Behr and his co-authors appears to accurately represent the wolf situation in Switzerland of the past years, including identifications of areas of high, moderate or limited conflict. “By capturing areas characterized by both favourable environmental conditions and a positive acceptance towards the wolf, our approach is a valuable tool to identify overall socio-ecological suitable areas for the wolf. Under given conditions, those regions are good candidates for the successful short to medium-term expansion of the wolf. Additionally, this approach allows to identify key regions where proactive and targeted socio-ecological management plans and a constructive dialog among different stakeholders are needed” said Dr. Gabriele Cozzi, who coordinated the study.

Special thanks go to the 3142 people that returned the completed questionnaire – this study would not have been possible without their contribution.

Behr DM, Ozgul A, Cozzi G (2017) Combining human attitude and habitat suitability: a unified socio-ecological suitability model for the wolf in Switzerland. Journal of Applied Ecology

Triple congratulations to Dominik

Series of congratulations to Dominik on three wonderful achievements!

First and foremost, he managed to persuade a wonderful lady, Regula, to tie the knot. We wish them a long and happy life together. May they grow old on one pillow!


Secondly, he successfully attracted third-party funding to support his PhD study on wild dog dispersal in Botswana, and started his PhD work. He is currently out and about, gps-collaring wild dogs together with Gabriele.

Last but not the least, he just received the Albert Heim Foundation’s 2016 Science Award, with his MSc work on the Swiss wolves. This award is given annually to outstanding work by young researchers in Swiss universities. The broad spectrum of research includes various disciplines around canines, including interdisciplinary issues such as the human-wolf relationships, which Dominik has nicely studies during his MSc. He sure will be a promising contender again with his new canine sp. in the upcoming years.

Popecol group started to form postwomen and postmen

Do Swiss people support or oppose wild living wolves in Switzerland? Do wolves encounter a positive “human environment” in areas with suitable habitat conditions? To answer these questions, Gabriele and I are conducting a mail survey among a random sample of the Swiss population. In order to master the logistics of mailing out 10’000 questionnaires, the Popecol group jumped in with many supporting hands.

Questionnaire about people's attitude towards the wolf in Switzerland
Questionnaire about people’s attitude towards the wolf in Switzerland

A questionnaire with sections on attitude, perception and knowledge of the wolf, experience with the wolf and personal information about the respondent was developed and translated into German, French and Italian. Before going big and mailing out 10’000 questionnaires, a pre-study with 200 randomly chosen people was conducted. So far the pre-study yielded a return rate of almost 30%, which is higher than expected. With this first promising outcome in mind the time was ripe for undertaking the logistics of printing, folding and packing 10’000 questionnaires.

With great support of the Popecol group, the first packing round successfully went off without a hitch. In groups of two helpers, the questionnaires were packed in envelopes together with a cover letter and a return envelope. So far, the first 4’000 questionnaires are on the way to be delivered to the randomly chosen respondents all over Switzerland. The last packing round is scheduled and the remaining questionnaires are planned to be sent out soon.

Envelope packing procedure performed by the Population Ecology group
Envelope packing procedure performed by the Population Ecology group

Thanks again for the great support and let’s keep our fingers crossed for a high return rate!

Dominik Behr | PhD Student

My research interests are in the field of population ecology, movement ecology, animal conservation and wildlife management.

My current research focuses on dispersal and its demographic consequences in the African wild dog. I aim to explore the patterns and mechanisms of dispersal as well as the resulting population-dynamic implications by acquiring movement data and by using long-term demographic data. Ultimately, the goal is to provide scientific evidence for the implementation of effective conservation strategies for this endangered large carnivore. For more information, please visit our research page.

My previous work has investigated whether there is spatial consensus between suitable wolf habitats and public acceptance of the wolf in Switzerland.

Besides my research, you will most probably find me outdoors doing sports and taking pictures of wildlife or at the zoo in Zurich, where I work part-time as a guide. I also like traveling, reading, cooking and having a good beer with friends.



  • 2016-present, PhD student at Population Ecology Research Group, University of Zurich
  • 2016, Research assistant at Population Ecology Research Group, University of Zurich
  • 2014-2015, MSc in Environmental Sciences, University of Zurich
  • 2014, Nature Field Guide qualification, Limpopo Field Guiding Academy, South Africa
  • 2010-2013, Industrial Engineer, ABB Ltd, Switzerland & China
  • 2006-2009, MSc in Management, Technology and Economics, ETH Zurich
  • 2003-2006, BSc in Environmental Engineering, ETH Zurich



  • Behr DM, Ozgul A, Cozzi G (2017) Combining human acceptance and habitat suitability in a unified socio-ecological suitability model: a case study for the wolf in Switzerland. Journal of Applied Ecology 

Gabriele Cozzi | Postdoc

Untitled-3 I am an ecologist with particular interests in population ecology, landscape and movement ecology, behavioral ecology, spatiotemporal mechanisms of coexistence,  animal conservation and management. My research interests brought me to several countries around the globe where I focused on different animal species: from Switzerland (butterflies and wolves) to Botswana (African wild dogs, lions, spotted hyenas, cheetahs, and leopards), to Turkey (brown bears) and to South Africa (meerkats) .

In the past my research mainly focused on:

  • Patterns of spatiotemporal segregation among large African carnivores.
  • Survey techniques for large mammal species.
  • Influence of human activities and anthropogenic habitat modification on animal distribution, abundance and behavior.

When I do not sit in front of a computer allegedly doing science or lie under the old field land rover fixing it or run after any moving animal trying to fit a GPS collar on it, I like to distract myself with any sort of outdoor activity such as hiking, running, cycling, snow-shoeing, ice-hockey or simply going for a walk with my dog. A beer and a glass of wine are a welcome distraction too.

I am currently directly involved in two projects:



  • 2013-present, Postdoctoral Research Associate, Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich
  • 2008-2012, PhD in Ecology, Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies, University of Zurich
  • 2005-2006, MSc in Zoology, Institute of Environmental Sciences, University of Zurich



  • Cozzi G, Maag N, Börger L, Clutton-Brock T, Ozgul A (in press) Socially informed dispersal in a territorial cooperative breeder Journal of Animal Ecology
  • Behr DM, Ozgul A, Cozzi G (2017). Combining human acceptance and habitat suitability in a unified socio-ecological suitability model: a case study for the wolf in Switzerland. Journal of Applied Ecology 54:1919-1929
  • Chamber AL*, Cozzi G*, Broekhuis F, Hartley R, McNutt JW  (2017) Serosurvey for selected viral pathogens among sympatric species of the African large predator guild in northern Botswana. Journal of Wildlife Disease  53:170-175  *shared first authorship
  • Cozzi G, Chynoweth M, Kusak J, Coban E, Coban A, Ozgul A, Sekercioglu C (2016) Anthropogenic food resources foster the coexistence of distinct life history strategies: year-round sedentary and migratory brown bears. Journal of Zoology 300:142-150
  • Durant SM, Becker MS, Creel S, Bashir S, Dickman AJ, Beudels-Jamar RC, Lichtenfeld L, Hilborn R, Wall J, Wittemyer G, Badamjav L, Blake S, Boitani L, Breitenmoser C, Broekhuis F, Christianson D, Cozzi G, Davenport TRB, […], Pettorelli N. (2015) Developing fencing policies for dry land ecosystems. Journal of Applied Ecology 52:544-551
  • Cozzi G, Börger L, Hutter P, Abegg D, Beran C, McNutt JW, Ozgul A (2015) Effects of trophy hunting leftovers on the ranging behaviour of large carnivores: A case study on spotted hyenas. PLOS ONE DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0121471
  • Cozzi G, Broekhuis F, McNutt JW, Schmid B (2013) Density and habitat use of lions and spotted hyenas in northern Botswana and the influence of survey and ecological variables on call-in survey estimation. Biodiversity and Conservation 22:2937-2956
  • Creel S, Becker M, Durant S, Msoka J, Matandiko W, Dickman A, Christianson D, Droge E, Mweetwa T, Pettorelli N, Rosenblatt E, Schuette P, Woodroffe R, Bashir S, Beudels-Jamar R, Blake S, Borner M, Breitenmoser C, Broekhuis F, Cozzi G, Davenport TRB, […], Zimmermann A  (2013) Conserving large populations of lions – the argument for fences has holes. Ecology Letters 16:1413-1416
  • Broekhuis F, Cozzi G, Valeix M, McNutt JW, Macdonald DW (2013) Risk avoidance in sympatric large carnivores: reactive or predictive? Journal of Animal Ecology 82:1098-1105
  • Cozzi G (2013) Patterns of habitat use and segregation among African large carnivores. PhD Thesis Zurich University, Zurich – CH
  • Cozzi G, Broekhuis F, McNutt JW, Schmid B (2013) Comparison of the effects of artificial and natural barriers on large African carnivores: Implications for inter-specific relationships and connectivity. Journal of Animal Ecology 82:707-715
  • Cozzi G,Broekhuis F, McNutt JW, LA Turnbull, Macdonald DW, Schmid B (2012) Fear of the dark or dinner by moonlight? Reduced temporal partitioning among Africa’s large carnivores. Ecology 93:2590-2599
  • Cozzi G, Müller CB, Krauss J (2008) How do local habitat management and landscape structure at different spatial scales affect fritillary butterfly distribution on fragmented wetlands? Landscape Ecology 3:269-283
  • Krauss J, Cozzi G (2005) Fritillary butterfly conservation on fragmented fens in Switzerland. In: Studies on the Ecology and Conservation of Butterflies in Europe (eds.: E Kühn, R Feldmann, JA Thomas, J Settele), Vol. 1, pag. 17, PENSOFT Publishers.